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Tony Deyal | Jammetry for beginners

Published:Thursday | September 21, 2017 | 12:00 AM

"Oh-ho!" exclaimed the pirate chief, a gleam of triumphant satisfaction passing over his face for an instant and then vanishing as he again confronted the captain sternly.

The preceding sentence is an example of the use of the interjection "Oh-ho!", which generally expresses surprise, exultation, comprehension, or mock astonishment and can be a taunt, a sneer, or insult.

I was about 12 when my neighbour's daughters, who lived two houses from us, started a fight over "Oh-ho!" One of them, the younger one, was being scolded by her older sister, and she responded angrily, "And furthermore, don't tell me nothing, you hear." And then she added, "Oh-ho!" As we say, "Who tell she to say so?"

Next thing I knew, it was fire, brimstone, and a fight to the finish. The big sister screamed, "Who you calling a ho? Is me you calling a ho?" and, forgetting for the time being that they shared the same female progenitor, picked up a knife and threatened loudly, "I will kill your mother so-and-so," or words to that effect.

Fortunately, other neighbours rushed to the scene, seized the weapons, calmed the combatants, and explained that it was an error in communication and not an insult or accusation worth fighting over or, for that matter, doing fatal bodily harm to their mother's genitals.

The word 'ho' is commonly used for 'whore' or 'prostitute'. I did not know that when I was young and told a visitor who asked after my aunt, who was busy in the back garden, that she was "hoeing". That got my aunt extremely angry, especially when the person laughed and called out to everyone within earshot, "All you hear that? The boy say that she hoeing."

There are many other words for 'prostitute' - almost too numerous to mention, including bawd, call girl, camp follower, courtesan, harlot, scarlet woman, streetwalker, strumpet, tart, hooker, and moll. According to the website, Caribbean Dictionary, there are some that are specific to our region like scabical, canal conch, dangles, dregs, jagabat, jamet, jitney, mattress, ole foot, ole po, rat, sketel, skets, stinky, stregge, wabean, wajang, and zwag.

I even found one that was new to me. In a 1967 Dictionary of Jamaican English (F.G. Cassidy and R.G. LePage), there is the term 'blue foot', also meaning 'stranger' or 'negro', and this, too, says a lot about colonial attitudes in the Caribbean.

In my teenage years, we tended to use 'ho' in a slightly different way and referred to anyone who was mad about football or who selfishly hogged the ball and refused to pass it as a 'ball ho'.

The terms 'wajang', 'jamette', 'jagabat', and 'wahbeen', in particular, originated in Trinidad. For example, the 'guabine', which Trinis pronounce 'wahbeen', is a fish, Hoplias malabaricus, but since it is a wolf fish and vicious, the calypsonian, Lord Inventor, applied it to women who were "so low/ dat if a razor blade fall they could pass below". In a numbers game known as 'whe-whe' (pronounced 'way-way'), brought by the Chinese to Trinidad, the number 16 stands for 'prostitute' or 'jamette woman'.




I am not sure when, but somewhere along the line, the word 'wajang' became popular. The Urban Dictionary has a meaning and background for it that while not entirely accurate, is hilarious. "Originated in Trinidad and Tobago. Refers to someone who displays bad behaviour. When the minister of housing, Keith Rowley, who was known for being rowdy, was fired, the prime minister, Patrick Manning, said it was because he was accused of being a wajang. #hooligan #koskel #rowdy #wild #outrageous #scornful #pnm. By a Trini who's not wajang December 06, 2009." The Trinidad Express, in an editorial on October 22, 2009, said: "What's the difference between a Rottweiler and a wajang? We pose this question in light of Prime Minister Patrick Manning's renewed insistence that he fired Diego Martin West MP Keith Rowley for untoward behaviour ... . After all, when the PNM sat on the Opposition benches from 1995, Mr Manning fully approved the designation of 'Rottweiler' given to Dr Rowley, who, in that period, established himself as an aggressive and effective critic of the UNC administration.

Meanwhile, public disaffection with UDeCOTT has been growing, and, in April 2008, Dr Rowley apparently decides to take the Calder Hart bull by the horns. Retribution is swift, with Prime Minister Manning removing Dr Rowley's ministerial portfolio and relegating him to the status of mere MP. The reason, says Mr Manning, is 'wajang behaviour ... ". Following Dr Rowley's firing, a female calypsonian, Tigress, sang a calypso supporting Dr Rowley titled, "You eh see wajang yet."

This warning about more wajang behaviour to come is what some people remembered when just over a week ago, Dr Rowley criticised Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar for engaging in "jammetry" over a claim that a contractor to the national oil company, Petrotrin, was being paid millions for oil that was never delivered to the company. The word 'jamette' is a word for 'prostitute', and so 'jammetry' was interpreted by many as accusing the former prime minister of behaving like a prostitute or, what Mr Manning, Dr Rowley's nemesis and boss, called a 'wajang'.

However, an increasing number of people on social media went for the Jamaican and Guyanese pronunciation of 'geometry' (jammetry) as a joke about what Dr Rowley meant. It does fit in some ways - all sets have a ruler and Dr Rowley sees himself as the undisputed and autocratic Trinidad ruler.

They have protractors and the oil and ferry scandals in Trinidad are taking long, so they are infinitely protracted. Dividers there are aplenty as race in Trinidad is the biggest divider of all. In that sense, there are set squares or rigid people who cling to race instead of reason. Erasers for dealing with painful history like being called a wajang and fired, scandals and corruption in the ruling party, are also in constant use. The real problem, though, which makes me refuse to joke about jammetry is that this is one set that lacks a moral compass.

- Tony Deyal was last seen saying that the jammetry accusation is like an unsharpened pencil in a geometry set - blunt and pointless.